Growth is good – as long as you have the systems and skills to manage it. BIM Drafting Services has grown more than five-fold in the last 18 months and is showing no signs of slowing.
The project-based nature of the work that the WA-based firm performs means it and its information systems need to remain agile, scaling rapidly to meet individual requirements. However, the company does not want to be saddled with on-premise systems that it might need to conserve when a particular project winds down.
To support BIM Drafting’s continued growth, and inject the sort of agility and resilience it required, it decided to embrace cloud computing.
BIM Drafting Services specialises in building information modelling (BIM), a process of generating an intelligent 3D model of any given construction project for effective planning, multi-disciplinary collaboration and efficient post-construction maintenance. BIMDS delivers 3D modelling and shop detailing services to the resources, commercial and industrial sectors. A key market in the last few years has been supplying shop detailing services to flagship mining projects including Roy Hill in WA, Rio Tinto’s West Angelas, and BHP’s South Flank projects.
Any construction project involves architects, engineers and drafts people, all of whom need access to cutting edge technology to perform their work.
Meanwhile the shop detailing work that BIM Drafting tackles is about creating drawings for fabrication. This involves modelling a construction in 3D down to the weld and steelwork level, and then turning that into highly detailed and precise drawings that become an instruction manual for construction.
Today, BIM Drafting is a leader in its field. It offers an array of services including project management and 3D laser scanning, where a team can scan existing sites as a precursor to expansion or modification.
Agility, scale and resilience
Underpinning the organisation is a series of sophisticated information systems and software platforms that the company’s 80-odd employees use on a daily basis.
The challenge for ICT manager John Rengel was that the firm’s on-premise systems were ageing, and while they had served the business well in the past, they didn’t have the agility, scale or resilience that would take BIM Drafting to the next stage as fast as it wanted to get there. He also wanted to implement a solution that would future-proof the business – scale with it, offer access to new technologies, and deliver good value as BIM Drafting expands locally and internationally.
“To ensure the future resilience of our IT infrastructure and to future-proof the business, cloud solutions were just the best choice. We also had to consider that our office location may change and grow. Relocating and commissioning IT hardware takes quite a lot of planning, man hours and downtime. A cloud solution mitigates a lot of that work,” says Rengel.
BIM Drafting previously relied on a handful of on-premise servers as its computing foundations. These also supported personnel outside of head office who accessed the systems via a VPN.
While most employees are based in Subiaco, BIM Drafting has a satellite office in Bunbury and the company has personnel in the Philippines, India and China as well as employees who work out of client or subcontractor offices.
The organisation needed a resilient platform that could be accessed securely from anywhere, at anytime – and one that could scale at the same pace as the business without massive additional overheads.
Rengel explains; “BIM has expanded quite a lot over previous years and staff numbers have grown exponentially – I would get an email saying, “Oh by the way, we’ve got four new starters tomorrow” – and we needed our IT infrastructure to be able to scale to suit that. Also, we have plans for new offices to be opened in other regions and need a way for our staff to access IT services. It makes a lot more sense to host it in the cloud.
“We also wanted a way to decommission certain IT services. Say we’re only using a certain IT service for the project duration – which might be a few months. We want to be able to turn that off so it costs us next to nothing and then maybe turn it back on again if that service is required in a year or two.” That flexibility is precisely what the cloud is designed for.
Besides moving core applications to Microsoft Azure, BIM Drafting has deployed Office 365 across the organisation.
While Rengel did consider a range of cloud providers, Microsoft’s significant presence in the region, the integration across platforms such as Office 365, as well as key services such as Azure Active Directory swung him to Microsoft. ”Things like Active Directory Sync and the fact that we can manage Azure resources using Active Directory groups and user names was the catalyst. It’s a no brainer when you look at it like that.”
The cloud transformation now sees BIM Drafting using Azure virtual servers, SQL databases, virtual network gateways, Azure Blob Storage, Logic Apps to automate workflows, and Azure Active Directory.
“The fact that Azure had an SQL service and it was native Microsoft SQL, is a massive feature for us. We don’t have to worry about the maintenance of Windows Server security updates.
“I basically pay for a database that gets backed up all the time and I can clone, copy or move the instance with a few clicks. And it’s always available. That’s probably the most critical for us. The fact that that it’s now managed as a standalone service is outstanding. We’re loving that.”
The platform’s elasticity is also critical to the firm’s success. As Rengel notes; “We can now scale our SQL platform without upgrading server hardware.
“Our SQL database gets thousands of rows of data entered every week. As an example, our table to track project hours gains over 1100 rows of data weekly and our largest data table to track project equipment data, has over 1 million rows.”
Azure handles it all without a hitch.
Rengel says that the cloud transformation – which he completed with a small team of four, provisioning Azure directly through the Microsoft portal – is now 90 per cent complete with storage the last key function managed on premise.
He acknowledges that during the transformation; “I ran into a few hurdles with the age of our hardware. You really need to check those compatibility charts before you go ahead. But there were no showstoppers.”
Today BIM Drafting has an Azure-based platform that can scale in sync with the business. The number of tickets or incidents that Rengel and his team have to deal with are fewer and they are resolved faster.
Cloud foundations have also expanded the opportunities for collaboration and communications. “One of the construction modules was engineered by a client, it’s being coordinated by a manager here in Subiaco, detailed and modelled by a draftsperson in our Philippines office and verified by a senior checker in our Bunbury office. So it’s pretty much gone to all corners of the state and the globe to deliver a tiny little part of this project. And they’re all using Office 365.”
Rengel can now also provision a new server resource within minutes; test solutions in a sandbox environment; remote workers have easy secure access to data and applications; and, there is much greater transparency regarding operational costs.
For example, using Azure subscriptions and tags, BIM Drafting has been able to separate its production and development environments, and show the costs of each to management.
For a highly competitive business, cost is a critical consideration. According to Rengel a physical on premises server would have cost the business almost $9,000. Moving to Azure provides the same functionality for around $200 per month.
“This gives us three years of usage for the same cost, with much less risk, and much greater availability and reliability,” says Rengel.